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Saturday, December 24, 2011


by Michael Monks 
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Gary Dawson (L) and Dave Ramey load the truck
to drop off sweatshirts to inmates
In the truest spirit of the season, even those on the proverbial naughty list are redeemed and have a Merry Christmas. Covington's Life Learning Center, based at the Covington ReUse Center, uses many previous members of the naughty list as new employees, offering convicted felons a second chance at a better life. This week, the organization partnered with a Wilder church to purchase Christmas gifts for recovering criminals at Two Rivers in Covington and York Street in Newport. The church members were asked to go out on their own and buy a hooded sweatshirt of their choice to match the size of an assigned tenant of Two Rivers or York Street. The gifts were wrapped and then on Thursday, they were delivered to the treatment facilities. Some of the men had not received Christmas gifts of their own in years.
Gary Dawson, Executive Director of the ReUse Center, spearheaded the effort through the Life Learning Center, an enterprise that has helped him understand how tough it can be to turn a life of crime into a life of success. "I've seen the obstacles to employment (for these men)," Dawson said, noting that the organization also helps people that may simply be victims of the Great Recession, considered too old for employment. "What I saw was guys coming out of prison had a difficult time finding gainful employment. I have been blessed beyond words with the guys I have here."
Crew members from the Urban Partnership are given
their gifts during a weekly Thursday lunch
Some of those guys can be seen working on the streets of Covington as part of the Urban Partnership, an effort to keep Downtown Covington and the urban core clean from trash and graffiti. The ReUse Center works as a contractor with the Covington Business Council's Urban Partnership to provide these volunteers. The crew's supervisor is a former felon himself and credits Dawson's efforts with helping give him a new lease on life. Dave Ramey's rap sheet landed him behind bars three out of four consecutive Christmases, and when a charity dropped off gifts, "it really made a difference in my life," he said. Dawson is so confident in the organization's ability to turn around wayward lives, that his accountant is a former inmate convicted of robbery.
Dawson's newest effort is a residence in Newport where he houses eight men in what he calls "Reset Ministries". "Imagine you're a guy just out of prison and now you have new furniture, internet, cable, six or seven other guys living with you," Dawson boasts. Ramey serves as the case manager for the men who live under a strict zero tolerance policy that includes random drug testing. 
In a way, it is appropriate for such a charity to be based at a recycling (Dawson calls the ReUse Center, "the highest form of recycling" because of the assortment of materials available for purchase), as men who were once discarded are now finding their way after being cleaned up and put into better use again.

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